This weekend was the second of three doubleheader weekends on the 2013 IndyCar Series schedule and it was the first time that we would see a standing start in the IndyCar Series. It also happened to be the first time that we saw the doubleheader winner bonus handed out as Scott Dixon did the double in Toronto after winning both races.
The first race started with the unlikely front row pairing of Dario Franchitti and Sebastian Bourdais. Both have been struggling for the most part this season and looked like they were poised to break out on a circuit that they thrived on in the past.
The first standing start in IndyCar history was a non-starter. Josef Newgarden stalled the car before the lights went out and the start was aborted. Then he had trouble with the car’s anti-stall system which left him some 52 laps down by the end of the race. Instead, the race had a rolling start which was clean but sure looked like it could have ended in a pileup.
Franchitti led for the first 20 laps before Bourdais’ prime tires allowed him to dive by an unsuspecting and slowing Franchitti in Turn Five. That move let Will Power and Scott Dixon through as well. After the first round of pit stops, Power cycled through to the lead despite stopping earlier thanks to the advantage of being on hot tires.
The race settled in for the second stint with Power leading until the final round of pit stops. On that last round of stops, Dixon took the lead with Bourdais taking second place. After a restart with 17 laps to go, Bourdais made a perfect restart and used the momentum and a push-to-pass to power by Dixon to take the lead. Just eight laps later, Dixon returned the favour with a push-to-pass aided overtake to take the lead and the win.
Further back, Will Power hit the wall in Turn Three on the final lap after being blocked by Franchitti while battling for third. Franchitti faded left and back to the right by about a foot but IndyCar felt it was worthy of a 25-second blocking penalty. After the race, Ganassi Racing appealed on the grounds that Dario made that move on every lap and that Power was on the inside was purely coincidental rather than meaning it was a deliberate blocking move. It was a BS move if that’s the case but IndyCar bought it and Dario’s penalty was rescinded.
The win gave Dixon his first back-to-back wins since 2008 when he won in Edmonton and Kentucky in consecutive races. Bourdais’ second place finish was the first podium for Dragon Racing in IndyCar and Bourdais’ first podium since leaving Champ Car at the end of 2007. Franchitti’s restored third place finish gave him back-to-back thirds after last week’s run in Pocono.
Marco Andretti wasn’t heard from all day but somehow came home in 4th. The top five was rounded out by Tony Kanaan who started up front but faded to the back of the top ten in the mid part of the race before coming back to the front. Helio Castroneves was on the same plan as Kanaan en route to 6th. Mike Conway’s return to the #18 Dale Coyne car wasn’t as good as his last run but still a very respectable 7th. James Hinchcliffe was the top Canadian in 8th. Simon Pagenaud scored 9th after a late incident with Alex Tagliani. Simona de Silvestro rounded out the top ten.
After Saturday’s planned standing start was aborted, Brian Barnhart, filling in for Beaux Barfield as chief steward in Toronto, decreed that there would be a standing start on Sunday and it would be attempted as many times as possible until it happened successfully.
Fortunately, it only took one try to get the standing start right. It didn’t go well for Ed Carpenter who stalled off the lights. James Hinchcliffe had a throttle problem that prevented him from even getting on the grid. He started the race three laps down and wasn’t in contention in his home race.
Unlike Saturday’s race, the Sunday half of the doubleheader was a one man show. Scott Dixon started the race on pole and only ceded the lead for four laps during the first round of pit stops en route to a thoroughly dominant victory.
Dixon’s dominance was helped in part by a largely caution free race. It wasn’t until 20 laps to go that we had a caution. James Jakes lost the wheel jumping a curb and clouted the barrier. Fatigue looked to have set in on the second street race of the doubleheader as Ed Carpenter looked have done the same thing in the same place with five laps to go. The final restart led to an immediate caution when Will Power and Ryan Hunter-Reay got together in Turn 2 when ended the race and confirmed the win for Dixon.
Dixon’s win is his third in a row and is the first time he’s done that since the merger. He is also the first driver to sweep a doubleheader weekend which won his a $100,000 bonus. Helio Castroneves was 2nd but saw his championship lead shrink after Dixon’s hot streak. Sebastian Bourdais scored his second podium of the weekend and his first trophy not in pieces after the podium ceremony. He managed that despite not having push-to-pass during the Sunday race.
Dario Franchitti completed a much needed solid weekend with a 4th. EJ Viso put in an uncharacteristically strong road race by rounding out the top five. The third Ganassi car also put in a strong performance as Charlie Kimball crossed the line 6th. Mike Conway gave Dale Coyne another good finish in 7th followed by teammate Justin Wilson in 8th. Marco Andretti’s early season street course prowess isn’t quite as good in Toronto but he still managed a 9th. Top Canadian on the day was Alex Tagliani who rounded out the top ten.
Ryan Briscoe’s doubleheader weekend went from bad to worse. He retired from Saturday’s round after a crash but breaking the car wasn’t the only damage sustained. Briscoe broke his right wrist in the incident.
In Briscoe’s place, Panther tapped Indy Lights point leader and Indy 500 runner-up Carlos Munoz to drive on Sunday. With only the morning warmup to acquaint himself with the DW12 on a street circuit, he didn’t do too badly. He finished in 17th, one lap down. For someone looking for a promotion to the big cars next year, it was a solid performance.
Briscoe expects to be ready for the next round in Mid-Ohio.
The almost non-existent Indy Lights series has been sold by IndyCar in the hopes that the series could be revived and/or salvaged by someone else. With that in mind, IndyCar has sold the Indy Lights series to Dan Andersen Promotions.
The sale to Andersen Promotions isn’t really much of a surprise. They already own the US Formula 2000 championship and the Pro Mazda series which are both on the Road to Indy ladder system. The plan is for Indy Lights to run 12 races next season with 10 of those races as companion events to the IndyCar Series.
There is no doubt that the Indy Lights series needed a serious change of pace. The series only has eight full-time entries this season. That’s not much of a road to Indy. In US F2000, Andersen has about 30 full-time entries. The Pro Mazda series has only about 10 entries but Andersen has only owned Pro Mazda since the start of this year while US F2000 was their series since 2010.
The first priority for Andersen should be getting the car count up. You can blame a lack of sponsorship or TV exposure for the low car count but nobody will be interested in the series if there are only eight cars on the track. If Andersen Promotions can find a way to get the car count up, the series will see interest increase. If they can convince the IndyCar teams to field even just one car in the Indy Lights series, that would add ten more cars to the series. Eighteen cars would be a better draw than just eight.
The 2013 IndyCar Series season goes from seven race weekends in nine weeks to getting a three week break before the 14th round of the season at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for the Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio. The track is a bit too narrow to allow for a lot of passing. However, it does have a couple of good passing zones for drivers to make moves.
Since the Mid-Ohio race came to IndyCar, it has been dominated by Scott Dixon and Ganassi Racing. In six races, Dixon has won four races and teammate Franchitti has one win there to give Ganassi five wins in the last six Mid-Ohio races. Also, Mid-Ohio is only the second proper road course race of the IndyCar season. We’ll have to see if anyone has the edge on road courses now that we have Mid-Ohio and Sonoma in succession.